The Issues by Mayoral Candidate Alvin Brown

April 8, 2011 74 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The center of major waterways and the hub of transportation - Jacksonville is truly a great city with growing potential. We are at a time where harnessing the power of our local resources and creating new opportunities for families, education and economic development can reinvigorate the city of Jacksonville. As your mayor I will remain committed to the issues most important to you, our families, and the vitality of the place we call home.



Jobs

To take Jacksonville to the next level, our city must be open for business and be known as a place where capable, talented people can access good jobs. Simply put, the next mayor of Jacksonville must be a jobs mayor. The world must know that Jacksonville is open for business. All stakeholders must be engaged so that the city can find new ways to retain and attract businesses. We must leverage the city’s current assets – JAXPORT, logistics, life sciences/medical and education – to position Jacksonville for future opportunities.


As mayor, I will do everything possible to foster a business environment that promotes job creation, including the following:

Make Jacksonville a winning choice in attracting, maintaining and growing businesses

Jacksonville is fortunate to have several competitive advantages for attracting and growing businesses here, including one of the strongest Chambers of Commerce in the United States. The city features an attractive workforce, an excellent geographic position within the Southeast that is ideal for logistics, offers relatively low costs for businesses, and has a good climate that contributes to our quality of life.

However, our city also suffers from obstacles to further success that require our attention. Chief among them is the slowest city government approval process in Florida. As you may know, it takes a minimum of three meetings for anything to get through City Council. Often, prospective clients and partners have to be told that they will be forced to wait at least six weeks – and often eight weeks or more – before the city government will give a green light. At a time when Jacksonville’s government should be doing everything it can to encourage and support industries, companies and entrepreneurs who are attempting to spur economic growth and create jobs, this overly lengthy process is unacceptable, and, as mayor, I would make every effort to reduce such red tape.

From my experience as a senior advisor for Urban Policy during the Clinton Administration, I know that small businesses are a major job creator, especially when recovering from a recession. As mayor, I will support the startup and growth of small businesses in Jacksonville by making small business access to capital, credit and city contracts a top priority.

Provide smart incentives that make Jacksonville competitive for both large and small business projects

Incentives offered by Jacksonville are competitive on small and midsize projects, but not as competitive as other cities for larger projects. We know from recent experience that the smart use of investment funds yields an excellent return on the taxpayers’ investment. For instance, Fidelity Investments moved to Jacksonville over Tampa in part because of the $750,000 investment made by the city and supported through the Economic Development Fund. The city should add resources to the countywide Economic Development Fund to help finalize deals that bring jobs into Jacksonville; and when offering incentives to companies, we need to require the businesses to meet their obligations for the incentives so the taxpayers get a solid return on their investment.

Target industries that are ripe for growth in Jacksonville

Our Chamber of Commerce has identified numerous industries as being well-positioned for growth in Jacksonville, and, as mayor, I would work to champion job creation with emphasis in these areas: life sciences/medical; finance and insurance services; logistics and distribution; aviation and aerospace; advanced manufacturing; information technology; and headquarters location/relocation.

Leverage the potential of JAXPORT

JAXPORT is vital to our economic vitality and is part of what defines us as a city. The port has a $19 billion annual economic impact. It generates 65,000 jobs in Jacksonville, with an average salary of $43,980 compared to the average city salary of $27,215. Right now, Jacksonville is competing with 13 other Florida ports for state and federal resources, and JAXPORT faces strong competition from strongly backed ports in Charleston and Savannah.

I understand the importance of JAXPORT and will boldly champion its potential. I intend to work closely with the state Legislature and Congressional delegation to ensure that funding for our port is a top priority. I will also seek to create a public-private partnership to accelerate the resources needed to accomplish the following objectives:

•Channel depth improvements;
•Terminal development and modernization;
•On or near-dock intermodal rail connections to enhance connectivity to inland markets;
•Efficient highway access and motor carrier support facilities;
•Local distribution center development; and
•Vocational partnerships to ensure a well-trained workforce ready to meet employers’ needs.



Balanced Budget and Smart Government

To take Jacksonville to the next level, our city needs a government that is accountable to the taxpayers and encourages city residents and stakeholders to work together for a shared vision of success.

No tax hikes or new city fees

In hard economic times like these, we should not raise taxes or city fees or add any new fees. The unemployment rate in Jacksonville continues to remain in the double digits. Foreclosure rates are at record levels. In a recent report by the Brookings Institution, Jacksonville’s economy ranked among the lowest out of 100 U.S. cities.

When so many residents and businesses in our city are having a tough time making ends meet, the focus at City Hall should not be on raising property taxes and higher fees, but instead on taking concrete steps to stimulate economic growth. Taxes pay for the services we all need, and when we attract businesses to locate in Jacksonville and our economy grows we build our tax base in the process. What this means is that when commerce grows, there are more sources of revenue and more efficient use of city resources and, in effect, there are simply more sources of money to work with, so what does get spent for the services we all need and use become more cost-effective.

Pension Reform

City government workers should have a defined benefit retirement plan that promises a fair level of benefits and requires standard level of employee contribution. As I believe a promise made is a promise kept, government has a responsibility to properly fund public sector worker retirement plans and never again neglect that obligation by taking a  “pension holiday,” as was done in the not-too-distant past. My administration will meet its responsibilities. Some modest adjustments to the current pension plans for city government employees will be necessary to ensure their long-term stability. We will need to consider raising the retirement age for city employees, as well as changes to the time periods in which pension benefits become fully vested.

As mayor, I am committed to ensuring that any changes to the pension plans of city government workers will be the product of careful review of the issues facing the pension plans and transparent negotiations that result in an equitable outcome for employees and taxpayers alike.

Eliminate Duplication, Fraud, Waste, and Abuse

As mayor, one of my first acts will be to order a comprehensive review of the city budget to consider and evaluate services to determine what’s working and cost-effective for city residents. The review will include input from department and division heads as well as the community. Programs and positions that duplicate the work of others in city government will be eliminated, and city employees and officials will be held accountable for any instances of fraud, waste, or abuse. Private sector outsourcing must also be reviewed, because we can often do things “in house” at a much cheaper rate than the old system of friendship-based contracts that only waste our money.

One specific area to be reviewed is whether moves by independent agencies to opt out of using central services or the motor pool or information technologies cost taxpayers more than returning to the system established when Jacksonville consolidated its government. We may save money by bringing the government back under that umbrella, especially if we can ensure those agencies that they will receive the quality and quantity of service they require when they need it. The city can also save $25 million by moving all city employees and retirees to a direct deposit and electronic document delivery system.

From Day One, building a culture of working together

As mayor, I will -- on Day One -- bring the era of the “us versus them” mentality in city government to an end. We are all in this together. Negotiations involving city government must be transparent and conducted with fairness and respect. Just as it is illegal to discriminate against anyone because of race or gender or religious preference, it should also be considered a serious ethics violation to discriminate because of political affiliation. It is only by allowing great people and great ideas to come forward that we can take our city to the next level, and this means bringing all sides to the table.




Education

To reach the next level, our city must have a quality education system that allows and encourages our youth to achieve their God-given potential.

Although the primary responsibility for the Duval County Public School system rests with our elected School Board and the superintendent, we must all work to ensure that our students are receiving a solid education that prepares our youth to compete in a global environment.

As mayor, I would serve as an ambassador for education and work to implement the following programs:

Al’s Pals

I will work to create a private-sector funded initiative to use retired schoolteachers to tutor students of D and F schools in math, science, reading and writing.

Summer Learn and Earn

Create a “Learn and Earn” program on our local college campuses for high school students to keep youth off of our streets during the summer months, gain summer work/school experience in a college environment, promote accountability and responsibility for young adults preparing to enter higher education or the workforce, and focus on the crucial subjects of math, reading, writing and science.

Job Placement Assistance

We will develop a structure within our public schools to train young people who don’t go on to college and directly assist them in finding a job through our Public-Private Partnership Plan.

• Career Referral and Placement. As high school students near graduation, Public-Private Career Development Centers in each public high school will work with local building trades unions, general contractors, Jacksonville engineering and construction companies and other partners to place certified workers into skilled employment opportunities.

• Post Placement Career Mentoring. Once referred and placed in a position, the Public-Private Career Development Centers will provide students with career mentoring and support services over the long-term. Career Development Centers’ Professional Counselors will directly provide this complete wrap-around service to students for at least 270 days after job placement.
 
Partners in Excellence

As mayor, I will encourage partnerships between Jacksonville’s educational institutions and private sector laboratories of innovation such as our Chamber of Commerce.



Public Safety

To take Jacksonville to the next level, our city must be a safe place for residents of every neighborhood.
Jacksonville has had the highest or second-highest murder rate in Florida for the last 20 years. In serving as Chairman of the Board of Families of Slain Children, I have met too many parents who have been forced to deal with the pain of losing a child to senseless violence on our city’s streets. We have lived with this for too long, and it must change.

As mayor, I would work with city residents, community groups, public safety officers and others by starting with the following steps to improve public safety in Jacksonville:

Continue to build upon the success of the Jacksonville Journey

The Jacksonville Journey is working, and I would continue to fund the program. The program has helped reduce crime by focusing on high-crime areas and funding after-school programs for 1,700 children.

Rebuild trust between police and the community

The first step in rebuilding trust is establishing a dialogue between the police and the community. As mayor, I would work closely with the sheriff and the community. It is important to recognize that police officers are members of our community who play a vital role in the well being of the city. The next step in rebuilding trust is prevention. The police are one part of the solution, but key community groups must work together to rebuild trust and ultimately lower crime.

Identify best practices in police and fire departments nationwide that can be implemented in Jacksonville

Currently our police and fire departments have indicated that they have a sufficient number of police officers and firefighters to keep the city safe. As mayor, I would work with the police and fire departments to identify “best practices” of other major metropolitan areas and adapt them for Jacksonville, and aggressively pursue state and federal grants to further increase the efficiency and effectiveness of public safety services.

Leverage the potential of our city’s parks in crime prevention

Good park programs are more than just a fun diversion for our residents, and especially our city’s youth -- they are also effective preventative anti-crime programs. We have about 300 parks in our city, and they are underfunded. Jacksonville spends $42 per person on its parks, compared to $143 per person in Tampa and $155 per person in Orlando. As mayor, I would reach out to the private sector and philanthropic foundations to fund the operation of the parks and encourage more businesses and organizations to adopt-a-park and sponsor park programs.



Downtown Development

For Jacksonville to reach the next level, our city must have a thriving downtown core that is a great place for people to live, work and visit.

A vibrant downtown is the heart and soul of every successful city. It speaks to the character of the city by displaying our rich history, illustrates solid leadership in the present and brings to life the positive vision of our future. Creating vibrant, thriving downtown neighborhoods across the country was a top priority in my service as senior advisor for Urban Policy and as vice-chairman of the White House Community Empowerment Board while with the Clinton-Gore Administration. From my experience, I know that a vibrant downtown is a necessity for Jacksonville to achieve its full potential as an excellent city for people to live, work and visit. Most cities our size with a healthy downtown like we will work to create have at least 10,000 people living downtown – right now, we only have about 2,000 downtown residents.

Our city has invested over $1.1 billion in downtown development in the past 10 years, and there are more than 51,000 employees working for downtown businesses. We must look at housing, parking and traffic, and sustainable business development in an integrated plan, as it will not work if done piecemeal. Our downtown must become a destination and not merely a place to work in the day and come to sporadic events in the evenings. Our city should be clean, safe and alive at night. This will take a strategy based on applying common sense solutions to solving the city’s complicated problems, brought on by years of Republican insider leadership. It’s time to make a real change. It will take a facilitator, someone willing to work to bring our assets together and make it happen.

A good mayor has a clear vision for the city and will assemble a team that wakes up every morning to work overtime for you. As mayor, I intend to engage all of the stakeholders in our city so that we can achieve these important strategic objectives for downtown Jacksonville:

A downtown development authority

Following the successful examples of numerous other cities, I would explore the possibility of establishing a downtown development authority for downtown Jacksonville with the goal of creating public-private partnerships that would serve as an economic engine for growth. Taking Jacksonville to the next level requires taking the politics of development out of the equation, and a development authority could accomplish this while also eliminating red tape that stifles progress. The idea is worth exploring.

A world-class convention center

To be competitive, Jacksonville needs a modern convention center that encourages organizations and businesses based in the city to hold large events here, and to attract interest from outside the city in choosing Jacksonville as a gathering place for people and new ideas. There are a number of potential downtown locations that could be considered for a new convention center, including the current courthouse and former city hall properties. A key issue is what makes sense financially. We should be able to leverage the value of those properties with a public-private partnership that benefits the city without becoming an added burden on taxpayers.

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By Alvin Brown